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Embracing the 'Pinteresque,' Stanford Summer Theater kicks off campus festival

Four plays by Harold Pinter, as well as a community symposium and free film series, will be featured in a month-long celebration

Courtesy Stanford Summer Theater Pinter 180

Rush Rehm and Kay Kostopoulos star together in The Lover and Night.

The British playwright Harold Pinter exploded on the theatrical scene in the late 1950s with a flurry of plays so original and potent that a new adjective—"Pinteresque"—was needed to adequately describe his style and influence.

As the Stanford Summer Theater opens its month-long Harold Pinter Festival this week, the question is not so much "Why Pinter?" but "What took us so long?" says Rush Rehm, a professor of drama and classics and the seven-year-old summer theater's founder.

The summer theater is making up for a lack of speed with depth: The Pinter festival, which begins today, will present four plays by Pinter, along with a free film series and a community symposium. The plays will be presented in two sets of two short works, with no intermission. The Lover (1963) will be paired with Night (1969) in Pigott Theater, adjacent to Memorial Auditorium, July 14-Aug. 7. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays. A matinee performance is scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 6. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for students.

On Friday and Saturday nights, the main-stage plays will be followed by late-night performances of The Applicant (1959) and The Collection (1961), which will begin at 10 p.m. in Prosser Studio. The studio theater, which seats 65 persons, is above Pigott Theater. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students.

Rehm and Bay Area actress Kay Kostopoulos, a lecturer in drama, star in The Lover and Night, both darkly witty works centered on the sexual and psychological dynamics of married couples. Kostopoulos is a veteran of American Conservatory Theater and California Shakespeare Festival productions and has appeared in the Stanford Summer Theater productions of Lysistrata and Biedermann and the Firebugs.

"Pinter is a marvelous writer for actors," said Rehm, who, as a young actor often turned to Pinter for his audition pieces. "There's never a word wasted." A master of the double entendre, the playwright uses wit to reveal life's dark underside, he said. "He's very arch, very funny, very mean. He's nasty—but with gloves on." Pinter's language is delicious, Rehm added. "There's a lot of zing to this guy's food."

The playwright never goes for the big move or for heavy symbolism, but reveals meaning and emotion through elusive, often ambiguous language, he said. Pinter's extraordinary attention to detail and his rhythmic use of language make his scripts "a kind of music," with staccato exchanges and verbal explosions punctuated by silences, Rehm said.

Rehm and Ed Iskandar, a recent graduate and director of the Stanford Shakespeare Society, will co-direct student actors in The Applicant and The Collection, two of Pinter's early, edgy works. The Collection explores the relationship between two couples, who suspect infidelity and wage psychological warfare on each other. The Applicant, which Pinter later developed into The Hothouse, is a sketch based on a job interview that carries a suggestion of torture. Pinter later turned to overtly political playwriting, but his early plays evoke a sense of oppressive authority and illustrate the potential for language to appear to clarify reality when it actually obscures it, Rehm said.

Pinter, who will turn 75 in October, became a conscientious objector as a teenager. Long a critic of U.S. policies in Central and Latin America, in recent years Pinter has spoken out vehemently against the war in Iraq. Earlier this year, he told a British newspaper that he no longer is writing new plays, but instead is devoting his energy to political writing. "Pinter is a marvelous playwright and a deft, intelligently and beautifully outspoken political activist," Rehm said.

A community symposium on Wednesday, July 20, will feature readings of Pinter's works and political writings, short performances, film clips and a panel discussion of his plays, poetry and politics. (In 2004, Pinter was awarded the Wilfred Owen Prize in Britain for poetry opposing the war in Iraq.) Tickets to the symposium, which is hosted by Stanford Continuing Studies, are $20 and are available through the Continuing Studies website at http://continuingstudies.stanford.edu.

The free film series, to be presented Monday evenings July 11-Aug. 8, will feature screenplays by Pinter, including the films Accident, Turtle Diary, The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Go-Between and The Handmaid's Tale. Screenings will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Room 002 in Building 200, and will be followed by discussions about the films.

"Art and politics merge in a lovely way" in the festival offerings, said Rehm, who himself has actively protested U.S. activities in Central America and the war in Iraq. "There's a lot of political art out there that isn't very good politics and isn't very good art," Rehm said. "With Pinter, I feel like I'm in the best of these worlds."

Tickets are available at the ticket office in Tresidder Union, 725-2787; after hours, call 725-5838. Tickets also can be purchased online at http://www.stanford.edu/group/summertheater.

Pinter onstage